With the legislative session fast approaching, Idaho school trustees will this week consider a slew of policy positions, including an updated stance on the long-debated K-12 school funding formula.
On Nov. 15, more than 500 local school leaders will descend on Boise for the Idaho School Boards Association’s (ISBA) annual convention. Trustees from across the state meet each year for training, expert presentations and to vote on a legislative platform driven by proposals from local leaders.
There are seven resolutions on the docket, all of which carry “do-pass” recommendations from the ISBA’s executive board. That’s half the number of resolutions considered during last year’s convention.
“It just speaks to the fact that school districts realize there are limited things that we can do at the Statehouse,” said Quinn Perry, ISBA’s policy and government affairs director. “Some of the things that are included in this year’s proposals are big items, like funding formula and bond/levy communication.”
Headlining the resolutions is the funding formula proposal, but two other resolutions, which deal with recent policies adopted by the Idaho Legislature, are likely to attract attention, as well.
A proposed code amendment would allow school districts more flexibility when communicating with voters about bond and levy measures. Another proposal would give districts authority to limit open enrollment transfers when there are program or building capacity issues.
Resolution outlines funding formula principles
The new funding formula resolution is less a stated policy position than it is a “philosophical direction,” as the language of the proposal reflects.
“It basically mirrors some consensus-building between our organization and the” Idaho Association of School Administrators, Perry said. “What are the guiding principles that we all have as we talk about changes to the school funding formula?”
Those principles include stability, predictability and accuracy of school budgets. A formula should produce accurate predictions of budgets that take into account enrollment growth and provide sufficient funds for essential school needs, the resolution says.
“They’re trying to get stability and predictability when it comes to budgeting, to where absent students don’t count against you,” said Jason Levy, chairman of the Marsing school board and Region 3 vice chair for ISBA’s executive board, who’s sponsoring the formula resolution.
The resolution also states that a funding formula should be based on student enrollment as opposed to student attendance.
For decades, state funding has gone to schools based on average daily attendance, the mean number of students who attended school over a period of time. Amid virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, schools temporarily received funding based on enrollment.
The ISBA last year adopted a resolution to make that change permanent, but it failed to gain traction among lawmakers before the temporary rule allowing enrollment-based funding expired July 1.
According to Sevy, the most important of the principles, “holding harmless,” says formula reform must ensure that no district loses funding.
“If you have a school that, if the funding formula changes, all of a sudden they’re losing hundreds of thousands of dollars, they’re going to be completely against that,” he said. “‘Holding harmless’ is the main goal, and then you could work your way into it.”
Implementing open enrollment, bond/levy communication requirements
Two other resolutions seek to make it easier for school districts to implement recent laws related to open enrollment and bond and levy communication.
Lawmakers this year enacted open enrollment, which allows an Idaho student to attend any school in the state, regardless of their address. The law allows schools to reject transfers from outside their district for grade-level capacity limits.
But school leaders also want an open enrollment exception for program and building capacity limits. That would mean if a special education program, for example, is at capacity it could be exempt from open enrollment requirements. The same goes for building capacity if a school facility is overcrowded.
“They need to be able to serve those students the best they can and if they’re unable to have reasonable capacity limits on those programs, it’s going to diminish their ability to serve all kids,” Perry said.
That’s made it difficult for districts to share messages that simply remind voters of election dates, Perry said. For example, a marquee sign with a neutral encouragement to vote must include the interest rate, the estimated cost to taxpayers and the length of indebtedness of a bond or levy on the ballot.
The ISBA resolution proposes relaxing the new requirements to allow for brief messages that remind voters of an election or direct them to additional information about a bond or levy.
“We want voter turnout,” Perry said. “I think the Legislature wants voter turnout. They want to ensure that people are educated and turning out to vote.”
Proposed resolutions and statements of purpose
1. Aligning Idaho’s school age and public school accountability requirements
Idaho’s accountability measures for high schools rely upon students completing academic requirements, participating in college level work, and mastering industry level skills during a four-year window. Two of those four years occur in the final two years of high school, when most students are older than 16. Section 33-202, Idaho Code, should be amended to support state accountability expectations for schools by changing the required school age from 16 to 18, unless the pupil has graduated early or has received their GED.
2. K-12 funding formula principles
For years, a K-12 public school funding formula legislative interim committee worked to develop a proposal for a new K-12 funding formula. While the proposed model was not approved, the 2019 Legislature did approve HB 293, which established definitions to be used in a Student-Based Funding Formula (SBFF) model that was to be considered by the 2020 Legislature. During the 2021 Legislative Session, the SBFF model was not addressed, leaving the issue unresolved for Idaho’s students, educators, and taxpayers. We believe that having a standard of fundamental guiding principles provides a measure against which ideas can be weighed and evaluated. During the 2023 Legislative session funding formula ideas were discussed and a bill produced. These guiding principles represent a philosophical direction for funding public schools and reflect some of the concerns identified with the proposed models.
3. Open enrollment program and building capacity limits
Open enrollment can be an important component of school choice. While we support the use of open enrollment to allow parents to make decisions about which school their student attends, the solo capacity exception being tied to grade level enrollment makes the process problematic for providing students with the best opportunities.
Many districts have special programs for Career Technical Education (CTE), gifted and talented programs, and self-contained special education. Those programs require specialized equipment, uniquely certified staff that are hard to fill positions, and often large, specialized locations. The programs also have students from multiple grade levels and/or schools enrolled in the programs. Those programs often have to be accredited and reported under an existing traditional school. The traditional school may have capacity at a given grade level, but the special program may be at capacity. The district cannot easily add additional capacity due to the unique needs and requirements of the programs. As written, the law may not allow districts to deny enrollment to a special program if the school/grade level which the program is housed under has capacity. An exception to the law that allows capacity within a special program will alleviate this issue.
Currently it is possible that multiple grade levels in a building may be above capacity with in-district students while one grade level is below capacity. As the law is written a district would have to take open enrolled students into the one grade level that is below capacity even though it may cause the building to exceed its capacity. That can cause the district issues with fire code, staffing, lunch programs, etc. In addition to grade level capacity, districts should be able to consider the building capacity when considering open enrollment. If a building has reached capacity a district needs the ability to limit open enrollment.
Many special programs have legal, age, proficiency, or skill level requirements for entry into a special program. Gifted and talented programs often require that a student score at a certain level on entry exams to be eligible for the program. Special education programs can have age and/or legal requirements before services can be provided to the student. When these programs are also stand-alone schools, districts need the ability to verify the open enrolling students have met the same legal or skill requirements that in-district students must meet before allowing enrollment into the school/program. Districts need an exception that allows schools/programs to require open enrolling students to meet the same requirements as in-district students when being considered for enrollment
4. Requirements for paraprofessional employment in Idaho
One of the most common employment needs in education across the state of Idaho is the paraprofessional. The paraprofessional shortage across our state continues to have a detrimental impact on Idaho’s schools and students. There are many causes for this shortage, however the current ETS-ParaPro (PRAXIS) requirement is one of the main barriers. As of December 23, 2022, local districts are no longer able to administer the PRAXIS. Instead, prospective employees are required to go to a testing site where they are required to pay an increased $80 fee up front prior to testing. The testing system is already backlogged nearly one month for scheduling the test, and should the prospective employee fail the test by even a single point, they would need to wait at least another month to retest. In an effort to resolve this issue, Human Resource Directors from various districts recently got together to propose changes to the current language as indicated below. These changes would still fulfill the federal requirements regarding paraprofessional employment and put Idaho’s requirements in line with several other states. This added flexibility would allow greater local control but still provide the State Board of Education with oversight of any exam that is developed and administered in lieu of the PRAXIS.
5. Career ladder placement for school nurse and speech/language personnel
The intent of the resolution is to develop a system for paying school nurse and speech/language personnel a salary that is commensurate with their professional and/or in-school experiences and to assist school districts in the recruitment and retention of such professional staff.
6. Streamlining consistent ISBA legislative priorities
ISBA members have consistently brought ISBA Resolutions on these matters. Some of these priorities may never be fully accomplished (such as opposing school vouchers), and others may take more time to accomplish. Instead of asking each resolution to be renewed, this streamlines the process and provides an avenue for other consistent priorities to be included in one Resolution.
7. Bond and levy election communications
This resolution directs the Idaho School Boards Association (ISBA) to work with the Legislature to amend existing statute to allow school districts and other taxing districts more flexibility in communicating brief messages and reminders about public elections.